There are occasions when we want someone to stop speaking. This could be at a conference when someone is overrunning their time (and usually their welcome); possibly someone is dominating a conversation or a meeting; there are times when people are being interviewed on TV and their excitement means their filters are switched off!
There can be any number of reasons why someone speaks too much. Nerves get the better of some people when they are in the limelight; there are people that are, I’m afraid, so arrogant that they have no concept that other people are part of a conversation or that other people’s time is being wasted. For other speakers, they might be so passionate about that they are saying, that they lose track of time. Or it could be that they have not prepared themselves properly, and seriously overrun their speaking slot because it hasn’t been timed properly.
For an individual that finds they are being talked at in a 2 way conversation, I would recommend walking away. For an event organiser or Chairperson in a meeting, it is a more tricky challenge, because the audience might be enjoying hearing the speaker, or you might be made to look an idiot. Of course you can reduce the speaking time of the other speakers. This happened to me at a conference 3 years ago. The welcome speech was so long that when I got up to speak, I was given a 5 minute warning after 10 minutes. I didn’t know what was going on; had I really spent so much time at the beginning. So I quickly missed out a whole section and invited people to ask questions at the end. But it was a shame for me, because my speech was spoilt…
In the theatre, even now, there are methods of managing people that steal the limelight, including switching off microphones; switching off their lights so they aren’t visible to the audience or even standing in front of that person. On more than one occasion I resorted to standing on someone’s dress so they couldn’t move. That did the trick… In the traditional MusicHall, the audience played a major role in getting rid of an unwelcome performer. When they shouted “off” or “Hook!” a long pole with a hook on the end would appear from the stage wings and pull the offender off stage. Sadly Health and Safety prevents us from using this now.
The old style Labour conferences also managed passionate speakers from overrunning. They had a series of warning lights to tell the speaker their time was nearly over. In some cases the microphone was actually switched off! Great theatre.
However, what should a chairman do to avoid one speaker overrunning causing chaos. Here are some tips. Yes; some I have actually seen.
- Tell every speaker they have 10 minutes LESS time than they really do. This means there is plenty of time for Q and As
- Be very strong. Give 5 minute warnings and get up as soon as their time is reached saying “Questions will be at the back of the hall”.
- Don’t be afraid to cut in whilst the speaker is mid-flow. Provided you have given them a warning.
- The Production staff should be your friends. I’ve seen them suddenly put on some visuals (video) in the background very loudly, that have moved the conference forward, whilst the offending speaker has stood open mouthed.
- I’ve also seen sound mysteriously failing at a crucial moment, so that lunch won’t be delayed any more.
- The best I have seen is a ‘Fire practice’ that mysteriously made an appearance during a very long, boring speech. It was welcomed by everyone.
So how do get people to stop speaking? Please share you tips!